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We have been praying along with Paul that the Holy Spirit would give us spiritual insight in the full knowledge of God so that we would especially know His tremendous power that is at work in us.

We have benefitted from God’s power working in Christ because the living and reigning Christ stands in a special relationship to the collective group of saints.  As a local group of believers we need to understand and accurately reflect the different facets of that relationship.

Relationships must be defined properly so that people have the proper expectations and act accordingly.

Benjamin Merkle: The final example of God’s power displayed in Christ involves his headship over the church. God made Christ head “over all things,” which denotes his supremacy over all of creation, particularly the hostile spiritual powers previously referenced (v. 21; cf. Col. 2:10). In addition, Christ’s headship extends to the church. “Head” refers to one who is of supreme rank or preeminent status and possesses ruling authority. Thus, God’s power in Christ not only has resulted in the sure defeat of his enemies but also is for the good of believers as the promised Messiah graciously rules his church. Although Paul typically uses ekklēsia to refer to the local gathering of believers, here it refers to the universal church (cf. Eph. 3:10, 21; 5:23–25, 27, 29, 32; Col. 1:18, 24). Paul concludes by again noting that God’s gift of Christ as head over all creation is for the benefit of the church. So, his prayer is that his readers would comprehend and apprehend the amazing power of God that he works for their advantage.

Paul switches from the metaphor of Christ’s being head over all things, including the church, to the church’s being the body of Christ. This metaphor is used here to describe the relationship not of believers to each other but of Christ to his people. He is the sovereign Lord who fills all things in every respect.

Clinton Arnold: And gave him [to be] head over everything for the church (καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ). The fourth and final way that God has manifested his unsurpassed power in Christ is by making him the ruling authority over heaven and earth for the benefit of the church. This benefit to the church is what led Paul to set forth these four descriptions of the awesome power of God; they are illustrations of God’s incredible power “for us who believe.” Paul is praying that these believers will be able to apprehend the vastness of this power that is for their benefit. . .

God has given Christ a great victory over the powers of darkness and now possesses full authority over them for the benefit of the church. The head of the church is a victorious and powerful Lord. On this basis, Christ can impart to the church all of the empowering resources it needs to resist the attacks of powers and to engage in the mission of filling the world that God has called it to.

Grant Osborne: They need not allow their present difficulties to mar the great hope of their certain future, for they are God’s treasured possession, and God is pouring out his mighty power into their lives (vv. 17–19). To enable them to understand more deeply this mighty strength made available to them, Paul reminds them that this power has already entered this world in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. He is absolutely supreme over the demonic forces, and indeed over every part of his created order. He is the head or ruler over creation and exercises his sovereignty for the sake of his body, the church (vv. 20–23). The church already has the victory because it is united with Christus Victor, the victorious Christ.

This is just as important to us as it was for the Ephesians. In the midst of all our struggles and all the difficulties that face us, it is incredibly comforting to know that Christ has already won the victory for us, and we like him will in the end stand in glory and see this world of evil end forever. We cannot lose, but we must wait for God’s chosen time and have patience in our present trials.


A.  Significance of God’s Gift — God gives good gifts to His children

and gave Him

  1. We Have the Best Possible Leader

a.  Raised from the dead — He is living with no possibility of death; He does not need to be protected or hid in the rear of the battle;

      • He knows the enemy completely;
        • Satan and his methods
        • Sin and its power;
      • He knows us completely.

A dead leader can inspire, but success will be dependent on our abilities and efforts.  A leader that is alive can still fight; our success comes from His abilities and efforts.

It is God’s will for local churches to be gloriously alive.  The local church is designed by God to be a dynamic, Spirit-led evangelizing and growing community of believers who share a common life in Christ; not some type of dead institution.

b.  Seated at God’s right hand – gives us access to God’s power and resources.

What do you need?  Christ meets the need (Heb. 4:14-16).

We should have confidence.

c.  In control of the universe

  1. We Have This Leader as a Gift from God

We need to show our appreciation; be satisfied; not try to replace Christ’s leadership (which is real but invisible) with leadership that is visible but has tremendous invisible defects.

Stephen Fowl: God’s gift of Christ to the church is the greatest possible gift. Christ is filled in every way by God, and that fullness is manifested in his body, the church. If believers in Ephesus or elsewhere were tempted to supplement their faith in Christ through taking on the law (as in Galatians), through ascetic practices designed to lead to visions (as in Colossians), through manifestations of certain spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians), in submission to or veneration of the powers, or through any other means—they are reminded here in 1:23 that the fullness found by becoming a member of Christ’s body is complete, absolute, and lacking in nothing. Indeed, to gloss Cyprian, there is no real fullness outside the church. At the same time, Eph 4:13 indicates that this fullness is yet to be consummated.

Learn a lesson here from the nation Israel.  As the only theocracy in the world, they had the best possible king = God himself.  That was one way they were different from all the other nations.  But instead of appreciating and submitting to His leadership they committed two tragic mistakes:

a.  Ignored God’s leadership

In the Book of Judges it is often recorded that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” — to their own harm and the detriment of their corporate testimony in the surrounding nations

b.  Substituted visible human leadership

1 Sam. 8 — Finally they asked God for a king so that they could be like the other nations.  Samuel warned them of the inevitable drawbacks, but they persisted in their request.

We do not want to fall into either of these traps.  We want to cultivate our appreciation for Jesus Christ as our leader who is sufficient for all our needs.

(Aside: Importance of the Plurality of Elders as opposed to the Single Pastor concept in promoting Christ’s invisible leadership.)

B.  Significance of Headship

as head over all things

Sovereign authority coupled with vital unity; denotes superior rank; source of authority and direction

This is an important concept to understand because some have tried to water down the meaning to simple “origin” in order to eliminate the authority of the husband over the wife in the parallel relationship (Ephes. 5).  The context here shows that authority must be involved.

  1. Sustenance — the head supplies the body with what is needed
  2. Authority — controlling influence over the body; the head tells the other parts what to do
  3. Unity — participation; dependence

The relation between Christ and the Church is not an external relation, or one simply of Superior and Inferior, Sovereign and Subject, but one of life and incorporation; not merely a leader but part of a living organism.

(Plurality of Elders best reflects the Headship of Christ)

C.  Significance of the Church

to the church

ekklesia — “called out ones

Used for the summons to the army to assemble in ancient times; commonly a political entity or assembly; “assembly, congregation, gathering of people”.

Emphasis is always on the people — not the place of meeting.  We don’t go to church; we are the church.

  1. Universal Church — all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from Pentacost until the Rapture.
  2. Local Church or Assembly — It is at the local, organized level that the great realities of God’s purposes in Jesus Christ receive visible expression in the world

The primitive Christian ecclesia understood itself as the herald of the Lordship of Christ which was approaching with the imminent end times and was already being realized in their midst.

The starting point was the proclamation of Christ which led to God fulfilling His election through His personal call — the result was the saints gathering together as the ekklesia.  We must start with aggressive outreach and proclamation as well.

This new citizenship does not mean loss of identity as citizens of this world.  Instead it creates a new relationship alongside the old; opening up a new dimension in the midst of this world.

The fact that small groups in individual homes are called ekklesia (Philemon 2; 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15) indicates that neither the significance of the place nor the numerical size of the assembly determines the use of the term; what counts is the presence of Christ among them and faith nourished by Him.

Harold Hoehner: how is the dative construction τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ to be taken? There are three interpretations:

  1. first, it could be taken as a dative of reference or respect, that is, God appointed Christ as head over everthing with respect to the church;
  2. second, it could be taken as dative of advantage, in which case God appointed or made Christ the head over everything for the church (RSV, NIV, NRSV);
  3. or third, it could be taken as a dative of indirect object, in which case God gave Christ to the church (AV, RV, ASV, NASB, NEB).

The third option is preferred because it allows ἔδωκεν to be translated normally as “he gave,” while the first two interpretations would make it necessary to translate the verb “he appointed” or “he made.” In fact, as Howard points out, ἔδωκεν is never used in the Pauline corpus as meaning “to appoint, to make” but always “to give” and always with an explicit or implied indirect object. He concludes: “This is precisely the usage we find in Ephesians and Colossians without exception, the dative case always being used to express the indirect object (Eph. i. 17, 22; iii. 2, 7, 8, 16; iv. 7, 8, 11, 27, 29; vi. 19; Col. i. 25).”  The reason that this dative phrase is placed last in the sentence is to make an easy link to the relative pronoun which introduces a further elaboration of the church in verse 23.

In conclusion, this verse speaks of two manifestations of power: first, God has subjected everything in creation under Christ’s feet; and second, God gave Christ to the church as head over everything, which thus implies that he is head over the church. Certainly there is progression of thought with regards to the role of Christ.

Andrew Lincoln: Syntactically, the weight of this clause falls on τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ at the end, and the emphasis on the Church continues in the two descriptive clauses which follow. The notion of believers as the people of God has been present both in the eulogy and earlier in this thanksgiving but now comes to explicit focus. This direction in the writer’s thought has already been set in v 19 where he has said that the greatness of God’s power, which was effective in Christ’s exaltation, is “toward us who believe.”

Now this is taken further, as the result of that power, and Christ’s supremacy over the cosmos is seen to be for the benefit of believers, here described as “the Church.”


            which is His body

A.  Significance of the Motif of the Body

  1. Unity of Common Life
  2. Diversity
  3. Interdependence

B.  Importance of the Vitality of the Body

  1. Importance of Health

nourishment; exercise (cf. emphasis today on taking care of your physical body)

  1. Importance of Growth

Body Life emphasis in the local church — under the Headship of Jesus Christ


the fullness of Him who fills all in all”  Or

the fullness of him who is being filled entirely.”

fullness” — 2 possibilities:

  • Active sense — “that which makes something full or complete; complement” — so that the Body would be the complement to Christ, the Head; used in ancient literature of a ship’s cargo or crew filling the ship; this active sense is the most common
  • Passive sense — “that which is full of something” — the body is that which is wholly filled by the mighty working of Christ (Jn. 1:16; Col. 2:10); Christ possesses all the fullness of God (Col. 1:19; 2:9) so He can impart this fullness

Either interpretation is possible here.  However, the context is emphasizing the Lordship and Headship of Christ.  Meaning #2 seems more appropriate.

Frank Thielman: and the participle πληρουμένου (plēroumenou) could be

  • in the middle voice (“the one who fills for himself”),
  • in the active voice but with a middle form (“the one who fills”),
  • or in the passive voice (“the one who is filled”). . .

The passive voice, therefore, makes the best sense: the church is that which is filled by the One who is himself filled, presumably Christ (e.g., Best 1998: 188; Dawes 1998: 241, 244–45; Hoehner 2002: 298–99). Since the participle is in the present tense, moreover, Paul probably intends his readers to understand this filling as something that takes place continually. . .

If we now put all this together, Paul is saying that the church, as Christ’s body, is filled by Christ who is himself continually and completely filled (by God). The thought is close to Paul’s comment in Col. 2:9–10. There Paul tells the Colossians they should not fall under the spell of human fabrications parading as “philosophy”: “. . . because in [Christ] all the fullness [πλήρωμα] of the Deity dwells bodily [σωματικῶς, sōmatikōs], and you have been filled [πεπληρωμένοι, peplērōmenoi] in him, who is the head of all rule and authority [ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας, hos estin hē kephalē pasēs archēs kai exousias].”

Homer Kent: The church as Christ’s body is filled by Him with all the graces and powers which it possesses.

Salmond: The plenitude of the divine powers and qualities which is in Christ is imparted by Him to His church, so that the church is pervaded by His presence, animated by His life, filled with His gifts and energies and graces.

1)  Christ is the sole Head of the universe which is supplied by Him with all that is needed for its being and order.

2)  He is also the sole Head of the Church, which receives from Him what He himself possesses and is endowed by Him with all that it requires for the realization of its vocation.

This fullness is not concentrated in one or two key leaders, but in the entire church, the body of Christ; everyone is significant and needs to be using their spiritual gifts.

[Alternative View]

Clinton Arnold: The way commentators have responded to these issues has given rise to three main interpretations of the passage. There are various permutations of these three views, but these are the most prominent views of the overall meaning of the text:

(1) The church is filled (by Christ) and Christ fills the world completely (through the church) (the participle is active, the noun is passive, and τὰ πάντα is the direct object). The church receives all that it needs from Christ and participates with him accomplishing his purposes throughout the world (or, totally).

(2) The church is filled by Christ, who, in turn, is filled completely by God (the participle is passive, the noun is passive, and τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν is adverbial). Christ is in a dynamic relationship with the Father and constantly receives from him all that he needs.

(3) The church is the completion (or, complement) of Christ, who is being completely filled (as more and more members are incorporated into his body (the participle is passive, the noun is active, and τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν is adverbial). Christ is incomplete without the church; he is in the process of being completed by the church.

My analysis of this clause will be organized around the three disputed elements of the text. The first view is the most compelling overall interpretation of the clause.